Men in Black: Getting the creeps on early

So, are they extraterrestrial spooks? Shadowy government agents? Visiting denizens of some demonic realm? The popular movie franchise aside, stories of the Men in Black, or MIB as they're often called in UFO/Paranormal literature, are often far from entertaining. Some accounts of MIB are just plain creepy weird and would not sit comfortably on the same coffee table with such clever tales from popular culture.

Men in Black stories are among the strangest in modern paranormal literature. In some ways, they are akin to legends told in less technological times of visitations by angels or other supernatural beings to individuals who have recently witnessed or been party to unusual and visionary events.

Some researchers have drawn comparisons between angelic beings described by Joseph Smith, prophet of the Book of Mormon, or the three 'angels of the Lord’ that reportedly revealed to the Hebrew patriarch Abraham inside information about the soon to be announced surprise pregnancy of his elderly wife, Sarah.

But the divine beings in those stories seem to have little in common with the classic Men in Black These are most often described as dark skinned individuals, who show up to harass UFO witnesses, wearing dark ill fitting clothes that look out of date (or in some cases not yet in fashion), and speaking in a strange, mechanical monotone voices.

They may claim they come from the government or military, or not. Some have been reportedly confused by jello, ball point pens or silverware when presented with these items, as if they had never encountered these before. Men in Black can come to your door individually, or in twos or threes, but the classic number is three.

They may try to get their hands on your UFO photos, or issue vague threats; in at least one instance a MIB uttered a bit of prophecy to the bemused witness that later came true with a vengeance. Then, when their mission, whatever it may be, is accomplished, they stumble out into the night and seemingly drive away in large, unmarked automobiles that are often as classic as the MIB themselves.

Well, that's a summation of the rumor. The facts surrounding MIB are even stranger and much harder to come by since most of the classic texts detailing the origins of the narrative have been out of print for many years.

But thanks to Andrew Colvin and his New Saucerian Books the pivotal texts which lent sinister and mysterious elements to this modern spooky story can be perused at leisure. And one learns quite a little bit about the early UFO Contactee community in the bargain.

The first text to really describe the Men in Black as such, was penned by maverick paranormal researcher, writer and huckster, Grey Barker. As he told the story, They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers (1956) and were made to pay the price. Barker was trying to fill in the gaps of the Albert Bender account and he did so rather liberally, creating an image of the Men in Black as sinister government agents who could also harness almost supernatural powers to effect their intrigue and silencing of witnesses. Why did he do this? Well, Albert Bender had a story but said he couldn't tell.

In 1952, Albert Bender had started one of the earliest international UFO research organizations, the International Flying Saucer Bureau. Although it was never a money maker (such organizations seldom are), its popularity grew steadily and in less than a year it had over 600 members world wide with several international chapters. Then, at least from the perspective of the leadership, the IFSB suddenly announced it was going to shut down and all monies refunded because "the answer" to the UFO mystery had been solved.

That "solution" was not revealed to the public, not by the IFSB anyway, and Bender faded into an apparent obscurity, except that Barker didn't let it be. So, taking what little information Bender did reveal to him, and various details from other accounts, spiced with conspiracy theory, Barker told a version of the story in which Bender was silenced by probable mysterious government operatives.

However, that's not how Bender really experienced his unearthly visitors in 1953 and a few years after Barker's book, Bender was persuaded to put his own account on paper (around 1960) and it was published soon thereafter. And this is one strange story.

It's not great literature and one might be inclined to think that Bender was simply having some odd psychotic episodes or maybe wanted to get out from underneath the IFSB except that....the narrative of the MIB was already up and running when he wrote and it doesn't fit his experience at all. In fact, Bender's account completely upends virtually everything that Barker claims. Funny that no one remembers that. Moreover, Bender's life was apparently completely normal in every other way (sure he was an introvert, but had a successful marriage and a regular job). At that point, there was really no reason for him to tell his story, especially since he could have told a better one.

The book is entitled Flying Saucers and the Three Men, and is worth reading because of what it reveals about early UFO contactee culture. And, if you carefully get through the whole thing it just creeps you out. Like entirely.

It's because Bender's contacts lie to him. They lie to him about their timeline and about the known physical universe. And it's clear that Bender knows they must be lying too, but they are physically hurting him to keep their secret. They are terrorizing him. Either they are lying or he is lying. This is a book about terror. And they didn't just terrorize him, they terrorized his wife. Just a little...to make their point. The book lives in a drawer because I dare not put it on my shelf. It will make you superstitious. Just a little. You'll put the book down and say, "Damn, I'm never going to go there."

Then, there is The Coming of the Saucers (1952), the original text by Kenneth Arnold, the pilot whose reported UFO sighting on June 24, 1947 started "it" all. Actually, only half of the book is by Arnold, the other was written by Ray Palmer, the erstwhile editor/publisher of pulp fan fiction, a huckster similar to Barker and with probably fewer feet on the ground. Palmer fronted Arnold $200 to research a supposed UFO close encounter in Tacoma, Washington and most of Arnold's story is about just how strange that investigation got.

There are no literal Men in Black in this account, but, you do get a glimpse of how UFO encounters might be hoaxed and then covered up (Arnold was not convinced by the Tacoma report), and there are real military investigators who show up to help Arnold, or... not. The rumor of the hush, hush agent was dropped by a guy named Fred Crisman who supposedly was one of the witnesses. Later on he turns out to be one of the material witnesses summoned in connection with the JFK assassination, but of course, Arnold could not have known that going in. In retrospect, it is clearly a setup--although a weird one. And then, there are the military investigators who die in an odd plane crash while carrying cargo supposedly dropped by a UFO. This is a real plane crash, not a rumor.

The Coming of the Saucers was published in 1952 and Bender makes brief reference to Arnold in his own book, which, as mentioned, was published much later. The notion of possible government cover up of UFO activity was already strong by 1952 and Arnold's account reads very much like a man who is trying to come to grips with something that is much larger and stranger than he can get a handle on. In the end, he's happy just to get home and be with his wife.

The final book in this short collection is the long out of print volume by Woody Derenberger, Visitors from Lanulos: My Contact with Indrid Cold. Originally published in limited edition not long after the reported events in November 1966, and at the behest of paranormal investigator John Keel, Visitors tells the story of Derenberger's extended contacts in and around Point Pleasant, WV with alleged extraterrestrials from Lanulos, and especially with one of "their" number, Indrid Cold.

Derenberger's text is unsophisticated, rambling, and honestly a little hard to get through. He provides detailed accounts of his travels to Lanulos, which was said to be located in a galaxy called Ganymede. Lanulos is a perfect society and its inhabitants are so unassuming that no one wears clothes. They are somehow very Christian without any of the external signs of religion at all. It's clearly too ideal on one level.

At the same time, it's very apparent that Indrid and his ET cohorts, Demo Hassan,Tonni, Daryl, Karl Ardo and Clinnel (who drives a Volkswagen Beetle while tootling around on Earth) are real figures to "Woody." And they aren't just in his head. Cold comes to the house and chats with Mrs. Derenberger. The kids see not only Cold, but the spaceships which come by the house (in Mineral Wells, WV) on occasion.

The whole family has to put up with neighbors and the news media bugging them almost every night, because, here's the thing: many of the neighbors saw the UFOs and Cold too. In fact, Derenberger's original contact was independently witnessed and verified by two men who saw the strange ship and Cold and Derenberger talking. They didn't know Derenberger at the time.

Even Keel thought that there was something to the Derenberger case because the principal subject got absolutely no gain for telling his story. His wife eventually left him and he had to hide in obscurity for most of the rest of his life in order to keep from being hounded by media and crackpots.

If you keep in mind that Derenberger's contacts were occurring within the larger context of the Mothman sightings in Point Pleasant WV, which culminated in the tragic collapse of the Silver Bridge on December 15, 1967 killing 46 people, then it's possible to see how confused Derenberger, and others reading about these concurrent events, might become. What could the meaning of these experiences possibly be in the face of such terrible things?

Both John Keel and Grey Barker used elements of Derenberger's story to spin their varied accounts of the strange events leading up to the Silver Bridge collapse. In The Mothman Prophecies and The Silver Bridge, respectively, the character of Indrid Cold becomes more sinister and is tied to a flurry of extremely odd Men in Black characters that began showing up in and around Point Pleasant, harassing paranormal witnesses and journalists alike.

One of these is an incredibly creepy figure witnessed by a number of individuals and referred to simply as "the grinning man," In perhaps the best known report, a tall dark figure was approached by several youths after having been greeted by them. They were in an isolated location and it seemed strange to them that anyone else should be around. The man slowly turned to face them and they saw he had no face but only glittering eyes and a grin from ear to ear. This figure seemed to Keel to bear some passing similarity to Cold. Derenberger independently reported a 'grinning man' too, which he thought looked a bit like Cold who reportedly smiled almost constantly, albeit, apparently, a bit more pleasantly.

In any event, the name Indrid Cold has become forever linked to the mysterious Men in Black. And, this makes Visitors from Lanulos very important. Derenberger's daughter actually approached Andrew Colvin with the intention of trying to get her father's original manuscript published again (it had never been widely available), since she remembered Mr. Cold, and wanted her father's account to set some part of the story straight.

But it is a weird freaking story. And then there's Mr. Krill….

So, if you want to get to the bottom of the Men in Black you now have the tools to revisit all the original accounts. They are much stranger than you can imagine. Don't say you haven't been warned. And don't even get me started on the Black Eyed Children.

WHAM will be giving a presentation on the MIB at The Enchanted Cafe, in Red Hook, NY on August 31 in order to start the Autumn out right.